Saturday, June 27, 2009

Product Review: Cup Kozy

I thoroughly enjoyed The Greenest Dollar's latest product review, and I think you will too:

Here’s my situation: I’m usually pretty good at remembering to take along my Sigg thermos when I want a latte from my local coffee shop.

But sometimes I leave in a rush and forget it, or I’m out running errands and don’t have it on me.

The back-up solution? My Cup Kozy.

The Cup Kozy is a reusable felt coffee sleeve that you can use instead of those cardboard ones that the coffee shops offer. They dress up your cup, and keep your hands from getting toasty.

Why I Love My Cup Kozy

Cup Kozy has added features that really make this little product convienent.

And if you think something as small as a reusable coffee sleeve can’t have features, well hang onto your hats.

  • Cool Feature #1: It Rolls Up For Small Storage- Cup Kozies roll up into a tiny tube which will fit easily into a pocket or purse. And because they thought to include a little stretchy band, it stays rolled up. My messy purse thanks you, Cup Kozy…
My rolled up Cup Kozy...

My rolled up Cup Kozy...

  • Cool Feature #2: It Hangs On Your Keychain- Whoever thought of this little feature is a genius. As small as the Cup Kozy is, it seems as if it’d be easy to leave it at home with your thermos, right? Especially for guys, who don’t have a purse to stash it in. Well, Cup Kozy solved the problem by putting a little clasp on the sleeve so you can attach it to your keychain.

Marvel at the simple genius...

Marvel at the simple genius...

Last Word…

I love this little product. It’s a great way for me to consume less when I happen to forget my thermos, and because it’s so small I never even notice that I have it on me.

Cup Kozies are made from felt, and I’ve never gotten my fingers burned from my local brewery’s insanely hot coffee. My Cup Kozy does a great job insulating me from the heat.

Right now, Cup Kozy is offering free shipping on all their products. So if you want one, go check them out! It’s a great little green product that I never leave home without anymore.

Have a Cup Kozy? Anything you'd like to add?

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Friday, June 26, 2009

TGIF: Round-up of Top Blog Posts

Ooh, I've been a slacker this week. How did Friday sneak up on me like that? Enjoy these top blog posts of the week and let me know if I missed any.

We're a little light this week. Anything else I should've added to the list?

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Book Review: 10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget

I'm an avid Wise Bread reader (if you haven't check out this personal finance blog, it's a must-read). Of course, when I found out the Wise Bread writers had come together to write a book, I just couldn't resist.

Physically, the book has nice, thick pages. It reminds me of a magazine - glossy and colorful.

The book offers a wealth of information. Topics include:

Frugal Living
  • Food & Drink
  • Travel
  • Health & Beauty
  • Fun & Entertainment
  • Shopping & Bargain Hunting
  • Green Living
  • Education & Self Improvement
Personal Finance
  • Financial Planning & Budgeting
  • Credit Cards & Debt
  • Investing Your Money
  • Housing & Home Improvement
  • Career & Money-Making Ideas
Who would think to find a section on Fun & Entertainment? Usually that category is thrown to the wolves when it comes to frugality. That's what I really like about the book, it's realistic -- just like Green and Frugal Living!

While some info you may have heard before, I did find some golden nuggets. Here are three that I especially liked:
  1. 13 Free Ways to Wrap Your Gifts in Style

  2. 8 Tips for the High-End Cheapstake

  3. 6 Simple Tips for Buying Great, Affordable Wine
While many times I will read a personal finance book from cover to cover and then immediately sell it on, 10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget is very much a reference book that I will continue to use on a regular basis.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day -- Frugal Faux Pas

As you know, I just came back from Disney last week. While I was there, I had a charcoal, profile drawing done of my two children. (I couldn't resist considering that my mom had one done of me with my mom and dad when I was around five years ago.) While the drawing was a bit costly ($45 total), my mom had the great idea. Why not give it to my husband for Father's Day?

The drawing came out great and I wanted to get it professionally framed to preserve this great keepsake. Michael's always has coupons for 60% off custom framing. I figured $100 would be a good amount, since it was Father's Day.

After a beautiful triple matte and gorgeous frame, the total cost? $180! That was with the discount! Without it, it would have cost $300+. After nearly having heart failure, I handed over my credit card. My husband would kill me if he knew what I spent. But I know it's going to come out incredible. I'll have to post a pic when I get it back. That's the other kicker. I don't even know if it'll be ready for Father's Day. Argh!!!!

When I looked at the receipt, the one thing that costed $100 was the frame. I think they got me at a weak moment. What was I thinking?? Has this ever happened to you? I need to be more assertive when it comes to saving money...

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Truth About Grocery Flyers

I found this great post from The Simple Dollar and had to share it. I'm a sucker for grocery flyers, but after reading this, I'll have to think twice.

One tactic I mention regularly for saving money on your food purchases is to watch the grocery store flyer for sales, then plan your meals (and shopping lists) around those sales. This tactic really works - I’ve saved quite a bit doing this over the years.

However, things aren’t quite that simple - you can’t just trust the store flyer.

Over the last several months, I’ve been keeping track of prices on several key items that we buy all the time. Garbage bags, fresh spinach, toilet paper, grapes, Pepperidge Farm goldfish crackers, and so on.

I know what the typical price is on these items - I even have a small price list that has the usual prices for them.

So, a few weeks ago, when I took a long look at the flyers from my grocery stores of choice, I happened to notice that some of the “big sales” listed in the flyer weren’t on sale at all. The price was exactly the same as what I usually paid.

What gives? I did some research - calling and emailing a few people I know in the grocery business - and I came up with a few interesting facts about grocery store flyers.

For starters, a large portion of the spots in a grocery store ad are actually paid placements by the product manufacturers. That “sale” on Coca-Cola? It’s likely that Coca-Cola - or a local distributor - paid your grocery store to have their product inserted into the ad. The price of that “sale” item is often unchanged from the normal price - the only reason it’s in the flyer is to put a few more bucks in the pocket of the grocery store itself.

Why would a company pay for such placements? According to Tod Marks of Consumers Union, a mere mention of a product in a grocery store flyer can send sales of that product up as much as 500%. Thus, in many cases, the small cost of the product mention in the flyer can easily be recouped by a big bump in sales.

Another technique often used in flyers is quantity-based tricks. Let’s say, for example, that you typically buy a quart of cottage cheese for $1.49. In the flyer, you might notice that cottage cheese is on “sale” for $0.99 - but it turns out that this is the pint container, not the quart. Without careful reading, one might head out to the grocery store and grab that $0.99 “bargain” without thinking about it, actually paying more per pint of cottage cheese.

These two factors lead to the real question: how can you trust grocery store flyers at all? Here are some tactics I’ve found that work well for finding the real deals in the flyers.

First, ignore “brand name” products. Quite often, these are placed by the large food companies and don’t actually reflect much of a bargain at all. Just skip right past them. Occasionally, one of these might be a “loss leader,” but you can usually only find them if you’re really good at filtering out all of the noise.

Second, focus on the fresh items. The items that are fresh - fresh produce and fresh meats - are rarely branded at all. These items tend to be the real sales in the flyer (but not always - you should always have a good grasp on what the real prices are).

Third, “quantity” sales are often tricky. Let’s say you see some particular item on sale - 2/$5. That could mean a lot of things - it might mean that the items are actually $2.50 each and you don’t actually need to buy two items to get the discount, or it might mean that just buying one item will cost you $3.29 or so - which isn’t really a deal at all. Read the fine print and don’t just immediately buy more than you need or assume it’s a great deal.

Finally, know your quantities. Sometimes, “sales” loudly proclaimed in a flyer are for very small sizes. Once you’re actually in the store, however, you’ll find that the the larger size is actually the better deal, even though it’s not on “sale.” Sales on small quantity items almost always indicate something that’s not really a bargain (unless you can couple a coupon with it and get it for free).

Flyers have a lot of good deals, but there’s a lot of noise as well. Figure out how to filter through the noise and you’ll save yourself a lot of money on groceries.

What do you think?

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Friday, June 19, 2009

TGIF: Round-up of Top Blog Posts

What better way to end a great week than with some fabulous green and frugal posts? I've found some great ones this week. Please let me know if I missed any.
I'd love to hear what you think. Feel free to suggest some of your own favorite posts.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Go Green: Creative Ways to Reuse Paint Cans

Another great post brought to you by our friends at The Greenest Dollar...


Have you ever wondered if you can recycle paint cans? Have you ever wondered if there are creative ways to reuse paint cans?

Well, I sure have. I have a stack of paint cans at my house, many still with a bit of paint left inside, and I need to do something with them.

Years ago when I had this situation come up, I called my local city services to see what to do with the paint cans. Their advice was to fill the paint cans with kitty litter (to soak up the excess paint), and then put them on the curb for garbage pick up.

I’m sad to say I did just that (this was before my awareness of green).

But now? Now I have the same situation: a pyramid of paint cans. But the thought of putting all those metal paint cans in a landfill just makes my blood run cold.

So I’m wondering…paint can are made of steel. Can’t you recycle them? Can you reuse them?

That’s what I aim to find out today. And like I usually do, I decided to write a post while I learn about it myself!

Recycling Paint Cans
A quick search on Google yielded a good result from one of my favorite blogs, Daily Danny. If you haven’t heard of Danny Seo and you’re interested in learning green frugal ways to decorate your house with style, then head over to his blog. It rocks.

Anyway, Danny had the same problem last year: tons of paint cans. He called Benjamin Moore paints, who told him that most cities should be able to recycle the paint cans as long as the paint is completely dried out. You can see his original article here.

But, has a slightly different take. They say that although paint cans are recyclable, they’re considered “hazardous waste” by most cities. Here’s what they say:

paint cans, aerosol cans are recyclable, but are considered hazardous waste and need to be kept separate from other metals. It is important to leave labels on these cans, as recyclers need to know the former contents. Try to return the lids along with empty paint cans.

Ok, sorry if I’m beating this thing to death, but I just found another great piece of information at Here’s what they have to say about recycling paint containers.

Since all paint and aerosol containers are composed of high-grade steel, they can be recycled in a steel can recycling program. Paint containers made of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET resin SPI code 1) and High Density Polyethylene (HDPE resin SPI code 2) plastic are also recyclable in many communities. Check with your local/state government to determine whether steel and other materials may be recycled in your community.

Recycling Steps

  1. To recycle paint containers, make sure they are empty and dry. A thin layer of dried paint on the bottom and sides of the can is usually acceptable.
  2. In order to recycle paint can lids, just remove them from the container.
    To recycle empty aerosols, do not puncture, crush or incinerate the can. You do not have to remove the nozzle of the spray cans for recycling, but do remove the aerosol caps, which are generally made of plastic.

Reusing Paint Cans
If you’d like to get crafty and reuse your paint cans (which is what I’m going to try to do), what the heck can you do with them?

Well, there are a gold mine of ideas.

Use Paint Cans To Organize

  • Clean out several paint cans so they’re free of paint.
  • Decorate each one. You could use wrapping paper, old wall paper, or even paint them. You can also line the inside with paper or cloth if you’d like.
  • Using a hot glue gun, glue the paint cans together on their sides, creating a pyramid form, with all the openings facing the same direction. You can also use strips of Velcro.
  • Use your pyramid to store office supplies, or kitchen things like cloth napkins, extra silverware, art supplies, etc.

Martha Stewart did this (of course!) and she has a great picture on her site here. In her project, she’s using paint cans to store her mail and mgazines.

You can also use this idea on the wall, so instead of glueing these paint cans together for a desktop organizer, you could nail the bottoms to the wall. These are great for storing hats and mittens when you walk in the door. They also work great for storing fabric scraps for sewing and quilting.

You could nail the paint cans horizontally, leaving space in between each one, vertically, or even do a wavy design.

Use Paint Cans As Flower Pots

A classic idea. Clean out your paint cans, and use them as flower pots!

Because they’re steel, you might want to put a plastic liner on the inside. has a short tutorial on how to do this.

Use Paint Cans As Coin Banks

I found some really snazzy paint can banks online. People are so creative!

This would be a great project to do with kids. Let them decorate their paint cans with construction paper, paint, or even natural things like leaves and rocks, and then you cut a hole in the lid to drop their coins through.

Last Word…
Do you have any creative suggestions for reusing paint cans? I think I’m going to turn some of mine into flower pots. I’d love to do with “cubby on the wall” project, but I’m moving as soon as my house sells and don’t want to have to pry them off the walls.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Three secrets to eco-fun for Father's Day

Let's face it, as much as we love dad, he can be a tad difficult to shop for. It's not so much that he's picky. It's more that his needs and even wants, tend to be simple. He's happy with less which of course, makes him a perfect candidate for green giving.

So this year, why not come up with great gifts that honor dad and the Earth and that cost little in terms of money or the planet, And whether we're talking about your dad (if you're reading this), or your kids' father or grandad, be sure to look for ways to put more meaning in the greening.

Start by focusing on doing instead of buying.
What if your dad were king for a day? What would would his perfect day look like? Would he sleep late? Enjoy breakfast in bed, or brunch served outside? Would he like to work in the garden kids by his side, fly a kite or go for a hike? Would he love to see his bike sparkling clean or that light that's been broken for years, fixed? Whatever his wishes might be, consider how you can make them come true by planning the perfect day. And before each activity, you can loudly proclaim, "By order of King ____, we, your loyal subjects are thrilled and delighted to accompany you as you ________." (And don't forget to make a crown and award it in a ceremony for which you--and/or your kids, write a heartfelt script.)

Make or embellish a gift. According to, more than 50% of those polled said they are never fond of their Father's Day gifts. So one more tie or pair of socks doesn't cut it. Again, look to your dad's likes for ideas. If he's into reading, make him a clock from a book on a subject to which he's addicted, or choose a favorite old CD and do the same. (You can purchase clock works for under $10 from a crafts store, or if you have an old clock and are handy enough to take it apart and recycle the works, all the better!)

Most dads can never have too many t-shirts. Purchase organic cotton ones, then have kids personalize them using fabric crayons. When a friend and and her brothers were small, her mom gathered all the children together for this project. Years later, when their dad had worn out the three tees, mom turned them into pillows.

Or why not repurpose a beloved, out-of-style shirt, into a pillow--no sewing required. If dad used to dig cowboy apparal and has a favorite fancy shirt stowed in the back of the closet, wrap it around a pillow and set on dad's favorite chair. Keep the memory, lose the embarrassment of him, heaven forbid, wearing the oldie out in public!

Think gifts from the heart.
Whether you're six or 60, you have personal gifts to offer dad. To make your offer even more meaningful, let him know you'll do something special for him once a month for a full year. You could make him a calendar with your monthly contribution written on each date or secretly add them to his PDA, phone or digital calendar.

Below are some ideas to use as a jumping off point. When you think about your relationship with your dad and your own talents, you'll come up with 12 perfectly tailored gifts.

  • Send him notes in his lunch.
  • Make him brownies or his favorite treat.
  • Go for a walk together.
  • Take a lesson from him in anything he likes to do (fishing? woodwork? cards?)
  • Shine his shoes.
  • Accompany him to an activity he enjoys.
  • Teach him something you know how to do.
  • Make a video about dad.
  • Wash his car.
  • Write poems or stories with dad as the hero.
  • Go camping if he enjoys this, even if it's at home or in your yard
  • Plant a tree, bush or flowers accompanied by a handmade wooden plaque with dad's name and date.
Brought to you by Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and co-authors of Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, available at

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Green and Frugal...and Missing in Action

Miss me? Okay, did you even notice that I was gone? I've been a bad blogger. I took a week's vacation from work, home and blogging, but it feels good to be back.

I was in Orlando, part of the trip was for business and the second half included my mom and two children. We spent three fun-filled days at Disney's Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Sea World.

I got a great deal on airfare ($144/per person roundtrip) and a two-bedroom condo ($60 per person per night). Since I was traveling on business, the airfare and hotel costs did not apply to me. So for my mom and two kids, it cost approx. $700.

The condo was a timeshare that offered a very reasonable hot buffet breakfast ($6.95 per adult and $3.95 per child over 2). We spent less than $20 on a breakfast for four (my daughter is two years old).

We also found a local Wal-Mark SuperCenter (my new favorite store, by the way). We were able to purchase milk, cereal, snacks, juice for the kids and beer for Mommy and Grammy. ;-) Food-wise, our strategy was to eat breakfast at the condo. Then, we'd have a nice, sit-down lunch in an air-conditioned restaurant where you didn't have to battle for a table and eat fast food. Dinner was either ordered in, or something that could be quickly microwaved (from Wal-Mart, of course).

The real trouble was once we were inside the park. It was a like a spending frenzy. I spent $100+ just in pictures at Sea World ($30 for a photo CD, $45 for a charcoal silhouette of the kids -- for Father's Day -- and $20 for a great pic of my son feeding the dolphins. What can I say, I'm a sucker?)

Wal-Mart also carried a nice selection of Disney souvenirs, much cheaper than anything you'd find inside one of the parks. I was able to get a nice jumbo coffee mug for the hubby and some shirts for the kids.

All in all, every dollar spent and saved was well worth it. We had a fabulous time!

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Eco-tips for Father's Day

If you're an early shopper, here are some tips as you're out searching for the perfect Father's Day gifts from our from our friends at Celebrate Green!:

  • Don't assume you know what dad wants, ask him! You may be surprised.

  • A meaningful and eco-friendly gift is a donation to a charity dad supports.

  • If dad loves to barbecue, set him on the road to sustainability by gifting him with natural lump hardwood charcoal.

  • Bicycle chain frame with a great photo of dad and kids together, (recycled parts)

  • For the guy who's not afraid to let everyone know he's a treehugger, t-shirt proclaiming the same fro (organic cotton shirt)

  • For the hip and truly green, a recycled, fair trade wallet from Global Exchange.
What are you getting your dad for Father's Day?

Brought to you by Lynn Colwell and Corey Colwell-Lipson are mother and daughter and co-authors of Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Celebrations and Traditions for the Whole Family, available at

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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Green and Frugal: Surprising Cleaners

Sure, you've heard of vinegar, lemons and even sugar as being green and frugal cleaners. Here are a few more, courtesy of Real Simple magazine, that you may not know existed:

  • Ketchup removes tarnish from brass and copper cookware.
    Squeeze ketchup on a cloth and rub it on pots and pans. Rinse with warm water and dry with a towel.

  • Tea can be used to scour rusty garden tools.
    Brew a few pots of strong black tea. When cool, pour into a bucket and soak tools for a few hours. Wipe each tool with a cloth. (Wear rubber gloves or your hands will get stained.)

  • Glycerin removes dried wax drippings from candlesticks.
    Peel off as much wax as possible, then moisten a cotton ball with glycerin and rub until clean.

  • Club soda works great to shine a scuffed up stainless-steel sink.
    Buff sink with a cloth dampened with club soda, then wipe dry with another clean, dry cloth.

  • Hydrogen peroxide is a great keyboard disinfect.
    Dip a cotton swab in hydrogen peroxide to get into those nooks and crannies.
Have a little-known household item that you use as a cleaner? If it's green and frugal, we want to hear about it.

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Friday, June 5, 2009

TGIF: Round-up of Top Blog Posts

I feel like the weeks are going by faster and faster. Where does the time go? Here is this week's list of great posts:

Let me know if I missed any great posts.

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

How To Reuse and Recycle Ziploc Bags

Another great post from The Greenest Dollar


Most people use resealable plastic bags like Ziploc. I mean, they’re just so darn handy…

The problem here? Well, the problem is that they’re plastic. And the problem lies in the fact that most people use their Ziploc bags once, and then throw them away. I know…I used to do the same thing.

I stopped buying Ziploc bags months ago. I’ve been using them sparingly, and reusing them every chance I get.

The problem, at least with me, is drying the Ziploc bags. I don’t like drying them in the kitchen because a) my house in currently up for sale and b) it makes my small kitchen looked cluttered.

So, I decide to research other ways to dry my Ziplocs. Your benefit? You get a whole post about reusing and recycling plastic bags. Yippee! :)

Reuse Ziploc Bags First

Ok, I’ll be the first to admit: washing Ziploc bags can be a pain. To be quite honest, it’s one of those chores that makes me grind my teeth.

But, I suck it up and do it, and then chide myself to stop being so lazy. It’s really no big deal. All you have to do is turn them inside out (making sure the corners are pulled out completely) and wash them along with your dishes.

Words of caution:

  • Don’t boil your plastic bags. Ziploc bags have a melting point of 195 degrees. Water boils at 212 degrees. That’s too close for comfort.
  • Don’t microwave your plastic bags. See reason above.

Reusing Your Ziploc Bags

Up until I researched this post, I was simply washing and reusing my bags for anything and everything. But then I stumbled upon this article by Bryan at Bryan actually has a strategy for reusing his Ziplocs. And, it’s a good one.

Here’s what he does: he labels his Ziploc bags with a marker, so when he reuses them he’s always putting like items back into the same bags.


So, things like bread crumbs, dry pasta, rice, and crackers get labeled as “Dry Goods”. “Meats” are labeled to avoid cross-contamination.

Wow. So simple, and yet so smart. I’m definitely going to start doing this.

How To Dry Ziploc Bags

After you’ve washed your ziploc bags, you’ve got to dry them. This is the step that inspired me to write this post!

Like I said earlier, my house is currently up for sale. Which means, I have to keep it really clean every single day. Having a string of plastic bags hanging in the kitchen isn’t an option right now, mainly because I never know when someone will call to come see the house.

My first solution was to dry them outside in a discreet corner of the yard. But I keep forgetting they’re out there, which happened earlier this week. It rained, they fell, and got covered in dirt. Not good.

I found some great ideas online, however…

  • You can air dry your bags on the top rack of your dishwasher. Make sure they’re completely puffed out so they dry well.
  • If you don’t want to buy one of those “wooden drying racks” that are made just for drying ziplocs, why not make one yourself from scrap wood?
  • Hang your plastic bags outside on your laundry line with the rest of your laundry.
  • If you don’t like to see plastic bags hanging up to dry all over your kitchen, why not string up a line in our basement and hang them there?

Recycling Ziploc Bags

I’m putting the section on recycling plastic bags last because it should be our last option. Reducing your consumption of plastic Ziploc bags, and reusing the ones you’ve got, should always come first.

Eventually, though, your ziplocs are going to die. Especially if you put wet food in there. They get stained, they get stinky. And that’s when they need to go.

I have found conflicting information online about recycling Ziploc bags.

Case 1: Ziploc Bags Can Easily Be Recycled

On “How Stuff Works”, Craig Freudenrich, PhD, says that Ziploc bags are made from PET plastic.

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE): John Rex Whinfield invented a new polymer in 1941 when he condensed ethylene glycol with terephthalic acid. The condensate was polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE). PET is a thermoplastic that can be drawn into fibers (like Dacron) and films (like Mylar). It’s the main plastic in ziplock food storage bags.

Now, according to the National Association of PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), PET plastic is labeled as #1, which means that it can easily be recycled.

Case 2: Ziploc Bags Can Not Be Easily Recycled

Now, here’s information from EarthTalk, from the Environmental Magazine:

Polyvinyl chloride, commonly used in plastic pipes, shower curtains, medical tubing, vinyl dashboards, and even some baby bottle nipples, gets number 3. Like numbers 4 (wrapping films, grocery and sandwich bags, and other containers made of low-density polyethylene) and 5 (polypropylene containers used in Tupperware, among other products), few municipal recycling centers will accept it due to its very low rate of recyclability.

Final Word on Recycling Ziplocs?

I really think you’ve got to call your local recycling facility to find out if they’ll take ziploc bags. Beth over at Smart Family Tips had this advice to offer up:

I found out that most ziplocs and the like are made of LDPE (low density polyethylene) a recycleable material, but many localities aren’t capable of recycling them. I found one place ( that will recycle them, but they do plastic grocery bags, too, which seems to be the key. The zippers or seals have to be cut off first.

Thanks Beth!

I’m surprised I couldn’t find an expert source to give the final answer on recycling or not recycling ziploc bags. With so many people using ziploc bags, I really thought there would be more information out there.

If any of you dear readers have information about recycling ziploc bags, I’d love to hear it. Please leave a comment to share your knowledge!

I’ve been throwing mine into the recycling bin once their life is through (since my city now takes all numbers of plastic), but perhaps I should call and make sure.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Frugal Living Tips From America’s Cheapest Family

So I had all good intentions of doing a review on this book. Then I saw that our friends at The Greenest Dollar wrote a fabulous review that I just had to re-post.

I'm almost done with the "America's Cheapest Family" and I've loved every tip. It's definitely a resource worth keeping handy (unlike what I do with most of my books when I'm done reading them -- sell them on Read on and enjoy...

Frugal Living Tips From America's Cheapest Family
I’m a sucker for frugality books. I love reading how other people have clipped coupons, outsmarted the grocery store, and stretched their dollars so they could get out of debt and start living the life they’ve always dreamed about.

I love rooting them on. And then, like a pumpkin thief in the night, I take their tips and slip them here and there into my own life.

The latest book I took out of the library is America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money: Your Guide to Living Better, Spending Less, and Cashing in on Your Dreams.

Is it fabulous? Yes. Is it full of great, money-saving tips? You bet.

So, let’s dive in and find out how this family of 7 (yes, 7!) feeds themselves well on only $350 a month, how they paid off their home in only 9 years with a very, very average salary, and how they’ve been able to buy all their cars with cash.

Who Is America’s Cheapest Family?
It was Good Morning America who first called the Economides “America’s Cheapest Family”. The family had started a frugality and money-saving newsletter, HomeEconomiser, back in 2003, and the buzz was catching on. They were teaching thousands how to pinch pennies and get back to a debt-free life, but at first they recoiled from that word: cheap.

To them, cheap implied that money was the end goal for everything they did. If it cost a dime, they wouldn’t do it. And, that simply wasn’t the case. Their philosophy (and I’m paraphrasing here), is that money should be used to enhance your life, not define your life. Their goal was to have a great life and live debt-free. So, that’s what they did.

Are the Economides cheap and stingy? No way. The Economides are efficient, thrifty, and resourceful. That’s a far cry from the Ebenezer Scrooge that many of us think of when the word “cheap” comes up.

The Book’s Setup
One of the most appealing things about “America’s Cheapest Family” is the way it’s set up. Each chapter has a different money-saving theme, which means you can easily find what you’re looking for.

In the book, you’ll learn how to save money in areas like:

  • Grocery Shopping
  • Budgeting
  • Cars
  • Housing
  • Utilities
  • Debt
  • Medical
  • Clothing
  • Entertainment
  • And more…

Another great thing about the way the Economides set up up this book is that there is no “one size fits all” approach. Steve and Annette realize that everyone is at a different place in their life. Some people are just discovering frugality, and others are old hats. And, many of us fall somewhere in between.

So, they set up each chapter with solutions tailored around different levels of commitment.

  • The Timid Mouse- Timid Mouse solutions are for the beginners out there. They might be brand-new to the world of frugality, and don’t want anyone to know they’re trying to, shhhh!, “save money”. So, these solutions are extremely easy, low-effort ways to start saving money on the sly immediately.
  • The Wise Owl- Wise owl tips are for the intermediate frugalists out there. They’re clipping coupons and finding bargains, but are still growing their saving muscles. So, these tips will push the owls to keep growing and getting stronger.
  • The Amazing Ant- Ants are amazing creatures. They work tirelessly for their colony, and are experts and long term planning for food, housing, and storage needs. Advanced frugalists are much like ants; they’re incredibly organized! The Amazing Ant tips are for the master savers out there; they focus on planning, storage, and networking with other frugalists.

So, why is this triage system of tips so helpful? Well, because it extends the life of the book. Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced frugalist, you’re going to find tips and systems here that will help you save money. Anyone can learn something from America’s Cheapest Family, thanks in large part because the Economides kept all knowledge levels in mind when they wrote this book.

And if you start out as a beginner, it’s going to be a while before you outgrow this book. It’s useful for years to come.

Money Saving Tips: Groceries
It’s really hard for me to pick a favorite chapter in this book. Each one is great, and full of really specific information that’s easy to start applying immediately.

For instance, take the chapter on Groceries. Saving money on groceries is one of my favorite topics, in large part because it’s something I still struggle with weekly. There were some really fantastic tips in this chapter.

  • Lunch Meat- Steve and Annette never buy lunch meat. Why? Because it’s expensive! They advise looking for “chubs” of meat, which is namely just large hunks of cooked ham or turkey. They buy the large hunk, and then slice it at home themselves. Lunch meat is generally $5-$7 (or more) per pound. Chub meat is usually $1.29 or more per pound. If you ask, they say, the deli person will often slice it for you.
  • Warehouse Stores- When it comes to stores like Costco or Sam’s Club, there are opportunities to save big. But, Steve and Annette say it’s vital not to get sucked into impulse buys at warehouse stores. Why? Well, at the grocery store an impulse buy will generally cost you an extra $1-$3. At a warehouse store, an impulse buy is going to cost you at least $5-$7, or much more. And, warehouse clubs try just as hard as grocery stores to get you to be impulsive. If you fold under the pressure, you’re not saving.
  • Freezers- Annette and Steve love their freezer. They’re able to feed their family of 7 on $350 per month thanks to their freezer. And, they’re experts at rotating their freezer food to make sure nothing goes to waste. They advise readers that before they go off and buy a brand new freezer, look for a used one first. People are always getting rid of freezers, so great deals can be had if you’re willing to start off with a used one. And don’t worry, you learn their strategies on freezing food as well.
  • Shopping- It sounds amazing, but this family only goes to the grocery store once per month. Why only once per month? Because by going only once they minimize their risk of impulse purchases, which can destroy a grocery budget.

This chapter isn’t simply full of grocery store money saving quick tips. There is a lengthy discussion on Steve and Annette’s grocery store strategy. And when you only go to the grocery store once per month, you definitely need a strategy.

You learn how Annette plans a month’s worth of meals, and how she and Steve wind their way through the store (and yes, they use walkie-talkies!) to get the best buys with their mound of coupons.

Money Saving Tips: Debt
Another chapter I really enjoyed in this book was the one on debt. There’s a section in here that teaches us how to resist all those marketers who are pitching messages that “This Won’t Last, So Buy NOW!”.

Yeah, we’ve all fallen for this one. Hook, line, and sinker.

Annette and Steve offer up several resistance strategies, and relate several stories from their own life on how they came up with them.

One suggestion?

If you wait and search, you can always find it for less.

They suggest never, ever buying something straight from the store, at least at first. To prove this, they tell an illuminating story about a $500 baby chair, and the typical nervousness of first-time parents.

A savvy marketer was trying to scare the young couple into buying this amazing new baby chair for their newborn. The chair was amazing: it would never tip over, never pinch fingers, and guaranteed an IQ of 160 after five years. I’m kidding on that last one, but this “magic baby chair” was supposed to be worth every penny of their $500.

Of course, Steve and Annette didn’t have $500. Sure, they wanted it; what first-time parent wouldn’t? But, the money simply wasn’t there.

Instead, they started scouring their town for a used one. A few weeks later they found it. Final price? $30.

Another great strategy they talk about here is one they call, “I’m not signing right now; I need to see more options before I decide.

The point of this one? That it’s smart not to sign anything right away, especially a loan agreement (their personal story here revolves around student loans). Ask questions! Look at your options! Take time to really think about what you’re doing!

There are some really fantastic tips in this chapter. It’s truly a wake up call for those of us who impulsively buy furniture (and get on a payment plan from the store to do it), buy a car (with money loaned from a bank) or sign up for college (without even researching scholarships).

Last Word…
I thoroughly enjoyed “America’s Cheapest Family”. Another favorite chapter was the one on entertainment. There are some really great ideas for doing fun stuff for cheap or free (can you say high school football?) that I’m definitely going to implement in my own life.

You can find out more on America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money: Your Guide to Living Better, Spending Less, and Cashing in on Your Dreams.

And need I say it? Your local library probably has it in stock as well!

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Happy Frugal Birthday

For the Love of Lemonade
So yesterday was my birthday (hence the missing post). I had a great birthday weekend, which included a lovely lunch with my husband and kids at an eatery with outside dining. Considering the gorgeous, sunny and 75-degree weather, we just couldn't resist. We had just finished some yard work and all of us were really thirsty. Mistake #1. Instead of getting water like we normally do, we all thought how refreshing it would be to have a nice, ice-cold lemonade. Yum!

The icy lemonades arrive (and they look just like this picture) and all four of us suck them down. They tasted incredible, exactly what we had in mind. Our food comes out and we order four more lemonades because they're refreshing and delicious, the perfect accompaniment to our relaxing meal. Mistake #2.

The bill comes and I see my husband's jaw drop. "Wow, that was a bit pricey. It was $60 for the four of us." I asked how that could be when our meals were each $12 and the kids split a personal pizza that was approx. $10. Ah, our newfound passion for lemonade turned out to be a pricey splurge. They were $2.25 a pop.

$2.25 X 8 = $18

A third of our bill was spent in drinks...and non-alcoholic drinks at that! Lesson learned: Always check the cost of beverages and if there are free refills. Also, if you're super-thirsty, fill up on liquids at home. It may serve as a appetite suppressant as well.

Happy Birthday to me anyway!! ;-)

Any similar dining tales you'd like to share?

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